Parents of 13 current and former students of Success Academy, a high-achieving network of 34 charter schools in New York City, have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education accusing the school network of discriminating against students with disabilities.
Parents claim that the school network has susepended or forced students with disabilities to repeat grades without offering opportunities for alternative instruction and additional services. Additionally, parents are criticizing the school system for not holding hearings to determine whether the behavior that led to students’ suspensions was a result of their disabilities. In some cases, parents even accuse administrators of urging them to remove their children from school.
Administrators even called 911 to have unruly children, some as young as five, transported to emergency rooms when parents did not pick them up immediately as requested.
Educators, policymakers, and New Yorkers recognize Success Academy for its students’ high test scores and its strict disciplinary policies. Kate Taylor of the New York Times writes that even before these charges against discrimination, critics have accused the school network of pushing out underperforming and difficult students. The most recent complaints echo previous complaints lodged against the network.
Juan Gonzales, a reported for the New York Daily News, interviewed parent Katie Jackson, who claims that Success discriminated against her nine-year-old son.
While attending Harlem Success 2, Jackson’s boy was diagnosed with several learning disabilities. He was required to repeat the first grade. When Jackson requested that her son be placed in a smaller class, the school put his name on a waiting list. “He was in a class with 32 students, and it was too much for him,” Jackson said.
According to the complaint, Success administrators told Jackson that smaller classes were not available and that her son would instead be transferred to a public school.
Reporting for wNYC, Beth Fertig writes that Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Chairman Daniel Dromm and several nonprofit legal groups made the 23-page complaint on behalf of the 13 children and their families. The complaint urges the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate the claims and, upon any evidence of wrongdoing, require Success Academy to provide the children with appropriate remediation.
Nelson Mar, senior staff attorney with Legal Services NYC in the Bronx, says that “students who have disabilities, when they are disciplined, are entitled to certain protections to ensure that they are not being disciplined for things that are related to or caused by their disability.” Mar also said that he has encountered similar complaints regarding other charter schools’ treatment of students with learning disabilities. In his opinion, however, Success warrants more scrutiny because it has grown so large.
Success Academy’s founder, Eva S. Moskowitz, said in a statement:
“We provide 11,000 students, including over 1,400 special needs students, with an excellent education and have thousands more students on our waiting lists. We are disappointed that these 13 families do not feel the needs of their children were met.”